Every year, the US government hands out a $1.4 million check to the International Boundary Commission, for one purpose, and one purpose alone. It’s called, “The Slash.”
You might think, of course, that the U.S.-Canada border is just an imaginary line. But incredibly, that’s not true at all! Across the entire land border between the two countries, a 20-foot-wide treeless zone is cut.
The longest segment of the US- Canada border that doesn’t follow a river (in other words, a land border) is actually quite long: over 1200 miles, from Lake of the Woods (northern Minnesota) all the way west to the Vancouver area (Pacific Coast). That means that for over 1200 miles, there is a treeless zone.
And my idea is to hike it.
Look, this isn’t just a hike that no one has ever attempted…it’s a hike that no one has ever thought of. Try searching for another article like this online, and you’ll find nothing.
Well, of course, that’s to be expected. It would be a crazy idea. For one, in the forest the clearing of trees is pretty apparent, but in the farmland you would need a really good GPS. For two, you would have to cross hundreds of miles of farmland, sometimes with incredibly close proximity to the owners of the property…
But then again, that’s the job of the International Boundary Commission, to do just that!… So, you know what I’m thinking the hiking outfits should look like?
Of course, getting lost and passing farmland wouldn’t be the only issues. Hikers would also have to look out for rivers, lakes, mountains, and a variety of other obstacles…
List of Obstacles
27 MILES IN:
Piney Pinecreek Border Airport. Has a runway in two countries. Looks flat enough to walk over, and that wouldn’t be abnormal, considering the farmer who works next door has probably done it too.
50 MILES IN:
The Roseau River (Caribou, MN) is 6 feet deep and 200 feet wide. Must be forded three times, but shouldn’t be too difficult.
I think that with a change of clothes and a waterproof backpack, hypothermia can be prevented. Otherwise this hike would end quickly.
64 MILES IN:
Some dirt field. Perhaps for lumber, judging by what look to be trees on the very top. Clearly crossable.
84 MILES IN:
The Red River of the North is about 15 feet deep, and 850 feet wide. That’s a 5 minute swim. A challenge, surely, but feasible.
129 MILES IN:
Pembina River. 5-10 feet deep, and less than 50 feet wide.
142 MILES IN:
202-235 MILES IN:
33 miles of North Dakota’s northern border will present a real challenge: 13 lakes will need to be crossed. These will total out to 16,850 feet, the longest being Ross Lake, almost a mile wide at 4,640 feet (a half hour swim). None of this is impossible by any standard, but it would require an above average level of swimming.
Conundrum here. Which is better, swimming along the borderline and trying to cross whatever those two parallel lines are, or crossing at the maintenance road and fighting against whatever current the nearby dam creates? The choice is yours.
The same gosh darn windy river crosses the border six times!
Riviere du Lacs. 500 feet wide.
Minnesota my ass. North Dakota is officially the land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
Finally, some topography! Thanks Montana!
Holy cow! The Milk River! 430 feet across, 3 crossings (and scrambling down a hillside). Should be dairy easy!
Lakes like these can simply be walked around. No swimming necessary.
Ah. My old friend, the Milk River. In a few miles, you’ll also have to ford the Boundary River and the Milk River’s northern fork.
Passing through Glacier National Park took me two hours worth of testing different routes. To sum up, the 49th parallel (the border) goes through a series of unclimbable mountains, and to get around them you would have to walk through dense forest with no trail. In the end, I decided to take trails within the national park (including the Pacific Northwest Trail) instead of going off trail, and then take a border service road back to the borderline. This way, you’ll see some of the best lakes, peaks, and sights that Glacier offers, plus you return to the border in time for the last, unobstructed, 26 miles of border within the limits of the national park!
Kootenay River. Almost a mile wide. We can handle this.
Foothills by Porthill, Idaho. Could be steep, probably walkable, considering someone had to cut those trees down.
Avoid Snowy Top with 3 mile detour. Off trail, but avoids dense forest and sharp inclines.
Pend Oreille River. 450 foot swim.
Columbia River. 1430 foot swim (less than 9 minutes).
Kettle River. 210 foot swim.
You would have to climb a sheer cliff to continue on, so stand by me and take the train tracks until the border is on even ground…then cut through the trees to the borderline again. 4 mile detour.
Osoyoos Lake. Our longest swim yet, at 1.27 miles.
The deacon? Ah, live a little. Looks climbable.
One mile detour. Tries to avoid dense trees and the steepest ascensions.
Swim across Ross Lake. 1.09 miles.
Not necessarily a professional method to get by Mt. Rahm, basically eyeballing it. 2.5 mile detour. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online guidebook for this summit in particular…there was no Rahm e-Manual.
Again, just eyeballing this 5.2 mile detour.
Avoiding the Northern Cascades like a boss.
We finally finish, in Peace Arch State Park, on the Pacific Coast.
The Point of It All
Yeah. Pretty crazy isn’t it? The point of all of that “obstacle analysis” wasn’t really to be informational or to provide solid logistics…in the end, I only shared those obstacles and their potential reroutes to prove that this is feasibly possible to do. I mean, you could start in Minnesota and hike in the straightest line possible to Washington, for 1200 miles, on something that was never intended for hiking! And really, wouldn’t the scrambling and improvising (if done responsibly) be part of the fun?
At an average of 20 miles per day, this hike would barely take 2 months. And you know what? You’d be the first to do it.
CHECK OUT MY ATLAS OBSCURA ARTICLE ABOUT THE SLASH: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/uscanada-border-slash